A few years ago when Muriel, his late beloved wife of 60 years, was in the hospital with a serious condition, one of Jim O’Rourke’s eight kids sat in the hospital waiting room and asked him if he wanted to talk about death.
“What’s there to talk about?,” Mr. O’Rourke asked daughter Anne, the oldest.
“Well, for example, where would you like your funeral to be — Our Lady of Grace or St. Joan of Arc?”
“Well, my friends would probably be more comfortable at Our Lady of Mink,” said the long-suffering Catholic, “but when I go, I want some good music, so bury me out of St. Joan of Arc and sing along with Mitch.”
They sang “Sunny Side of the Street” a couple weeks ago at Mr. O’Rourke’s funeral. Here’s why:
Mr. O’Rourke, which is what I and everyone else called him out of fear and respect while growing up in this burg, was the patriarch of one of the biggest clans to ever play kick-the-can in the alleys of South Minneapolis or baseball at Annunciation Grade School. In the ’60s and ’70s, most of his eight kids were known all over the neighborhood, and a lot of us tore through their two-story house on 51st and Dupont Avenue like it was our own.
Mr. O’Rourke’s health had been good of late, especially for a man in his early 90s. He’d been living with his son Bobby’s family, and a check-up in June found him to be in great shape; a tough, fit old Irishman. The worst pain in the lifelong Minnesota sports fan’s heart was the performance of his teams this year, which he endured religiously on the flat screen in his basement bedroom. That hurt, along with the bedsores Bobby would clean every other day.
In mid-October, Mr. O’Rourke had a massive heart attack. Upon arrival at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, he was attached to a ventilator and given painkillers. He cracked curious with the staff and family members, and after two days the nurses told the family he didn’t have long to live. Anne explained to her father that the miracle they’d been waiting for wasn’t going to happen, and that the next step was to keep him comfortable until it was time.
As his 17 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren can attest, Mr. O’Rourke had many sayings, including, “And the rest is ‘H’ for history,” in describing meeting Muriel and the legacy they left, but no one saw what was coming last.
“A few hours before my dad died, the chaplain gathered us all around,” said Mr. O’Rourke’s daughter, Joanie Oyass. “She asked us to go around and say what we most admired about our dad. So we all did that. Then she read a poem, and we all went up and kissed him goodbye.
“There were 25 people in that room.
“He had a word of advice for each one of us.
“My dad actually was afraid of death, but he knew this was so hard on the rest of us that he wasn’t going to show that side.
“When we were all done giving him a kiss, he took off his oxygen mask and said, ‘Well, I don’t have a lot to say. But thanks for joining me on the journey, and I’ll see ya on the sunny side.’”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.